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(WAR against JAPAN, 1942-45 – continued)

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WAR against JAPAN, 1942-45 (3 of 8)

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Captives and the Rail Line through Thailand to Burma

Hellfire Pass

Hellfire Pass, cut by hand. Enlargement of Hellfire Pass

Japan was supplying its troops in Burma by ships on a two thousand mile journey southward around the Malay Peninsula, and it was losing those ships to attacks by US submarines. Instead of supplying its troops in Burma by ships, the Japanese decided to build a railway from Bangkok to Rangoon through dense jungle, using Japanese engineers and an abundance of prisoner-of-war labor plus the labor of local people. The prisoners-of-war were taken north to Thailand in ships under conditions similar to the "hell ships" that carried American prisoners from the Philippines to Japan.

After the main railway bridge was built over the River Mae Klong ("Bridge on River Kwai" in the movie) the laborers were put to work cutting through jungle and laying track. The building of the railway was progressing too slowly for the Japanese, and Tokyo ordered more speed. The Japanese in Burma were suffering from a shortage of labor at the same time that they were reducing their labor supply through mistreatment and lack of care. Guards beat prisoner-doctors who were trying to protect ill men from being dragged back to work. An estimated 13,000 prisoners of war died from disease, sickness, starvation and brutality. And 80,000 Asian laborers also died.

Australians, the British and Americans, meanwhile, were working their prisoners-of-war, but at a reasonable number of hours per day, without the brutality, with sufficient food and providing medical attention.

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